The city of Cupertino will expand its ban on single-use plastics next month, requiring local businesses to ask customers if they want plastic utensils or other food accessories.
The Cupertino City Council unanimously voted Tuesday in favor of expanding the city’s ban. The vote ratified the ordinance after an initial unanimous vote in August, and it will take effect starting Oct. 6.
Starting Sept. 6, 2023, the ordinance will also prohibit restaurants and other businesses from providing single-use plastic cups, containers, bags and other foodware for dine-in or takeout and from selling compostable plastic foodware or polystyrene foodware and coolers.
Restaurants and other businesses will be allowed to provide fiber-based takeout items made of paper, wood, bamboo or aluminum foil. For dine-in service, restaurants will be required to provide reusable dishes, glasses, utensils and other foodware.
The cities of Mountain View and Alameda and San Mateo County already require the use of fiber-based food containers in the Bay Area.
According to Ursula Syrova, the city’s environmental programs manager, compostable plastic containers were included in the ban because they are not accepted into the city’s organic waste program.
“They are a contaminant to the recycling program and if thrown away as garbage, they would go to landfill and generate methane,” Syrova said during the council’s first vote on the ordinance during its Aug. 16 meeting.
“These items tend to be more expensive than other types of foodware but essentially are marketing claims about compostability that are not able to be realized in Cupertino’s waste management program,” she said.
The city has gradually added to its ban on plastic products since 2013, when it banned the use of single-use plastic shopping bags. It has subsequently banned food containers made of polystyrene, commonly known by the Dow Chemical Co. designation, Styrofoam.
The city also adopted a “zero waste” policy in 2017 in an effort to reduce plastic pollution and litter and support the use of reusable and compostable products.
City officials conducted outreach to 99 local restaurants and other businesses last summer in advance of drafting the ordinance, finding the main concerns among businesses to be the cost of plastic alternatives and the continuation of certain business operations, such as the heat-sealing process for the plastic lid of a bubble tea cup.
The city also surveyed 111 residents to gauge support for expanding its plastic ban, with 91 percent of them expressing concern about single-use plastic waste.
Businesses will be able to apply for a temporary exemption to the ordinance for a handful of reasons, including economic and unique packaging hardships and needing extra time to comply with the expanded ban.
Even so, the California Restaurant Association sent a letter to the city on Friday suggesting that some facets of the ordinance will harm local restaurants, particularly those that cannot eventually accommodate reusable foodware or add the dishwashing capacity to do so.
“Many restaurants will be forced to buy and install dishwashing appliances in their kitchen to accommodate the dine-in reusable requirements, which will be an extremely expensive task and a near impossible one for many due to physical space constraints,” CRA Senior Vice President for Government Affairs and Public Policy Matt Sutton said in the letter.
“Restaurant models of all types will also have to grapple with the storage of these dishware items as well, in physical commercial spaces that did not contemplate this new mandate,” Sutton said.
Syrova noted that a restaurant that showed that it could not accommodate a dishwasher once would be eligible for an exemption once the requirement for reusable dine-in containers goes into effect.
Sutton went on to request that the city allow restaurants to use single-use plastic bags for takeout, arguing that paper bags are not practical for carrying food containers and will not protect against leaks or spills.
City officials plan in the next year to discuss establishing a financial assistance fund for businesses struggling financially to comply with the expanded plastic ban.